As the Colorado Rapids players head to Utah for this weekend's meeting with Real Salt Lake, one man on the coaching staff may well share some of his experiences ahead of this rivalry fixture. Assistant coach, John Metgod, is new to the Rocky Mountain Cup but he is not new to rivalry within soccer, having played in one of the sport’s fiercest – Real Madrid versus Barcelona.
“It sometimes felt like it was more than just a game of football,” Metgod told me. “It was – and still is – Catalunya against Spain. Barcelona is in Catalunya and they want to be separate from Spain, so it was actually pretty intense.”
Metgod also featured for Dutch side Feyenoord against bitter rivals Ajax during a six-year spell at the Rotterdam-based club.
“Feyenoord/Ajax was about the same (in its intensity). It was seen as Rotterdam versus Amsterdam, two big cities. Distances there were obviously different to here in the US.”
The 56-year-old was previously a player at Nottingham Forest, under the legendary manager Brian Clough, when they went to near-neighbors Derby County, though he never played in a North London showdown against Arsenal when with Tottenham Hotspur.
“I played at The Baseball Ground in Derby, and we won which is always a nice experience, but all rivalries are hyped up,” Metgod added. “Leading up to the game it is usually totally different to what a normal game would be like.”
For Metgod, the key to success in rivalry games is to keep your head while all around you are losing theirs. Yes, the media will hype the fixture, while the fans place much greater emphasis on these kind of games, but players have to detach themselves from the hysteria and focus on the job in hand.
“For me, as a player, I would like to treat it in the same manner as any other game because if you start treating it in a different way then you start losing a sense of realism and you have to focus and you have to know what you are doing.
“If you get too emotional with it because it is a derby, then you might make even more mistakes than you already make. I know that it is very difficult to do because obviously it is hyped-up to that moment.”
Rivalries in sport are built in a variety of ways, but all are organic. None can be pushed upon fans, the very force which create the divide, whether that be based on city pride, neighborly rivalry, political differences, social structures or simply historical hatred that has fermented over time and maybe stems from some close or heated previous match-ups.
Whatever happens this weekend, Metgod will be able to add another rivalry to those he has been involved in, although he admits this will be a little different.
“The thing that is very hard for me to understand is the fact that it’s a derby, and yet it’s about a seven-hour drive on the bus," he said with a broad smile.
“A derby is always something special, but – as a player – you have to treat it as so before the game and after the game but not during the game, because you might then do silly things as you can get caught up in the moment.
“It’s a very thin line and you have to find the balance in being hyped-up yourself because you need to be like that in order to perform, but I’d like to think you’re up for every game. And even though it’s far more than ‘a game’ against Salt Lake, I think if you treat it like ‘a game’, then you’ll probably have more chance of winning it.”